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Blogging Porto Alegre and Davos
Alex Steffen, 29 Jan 05

The world being what it is, and the blogosphere being what it is, it's of course inevitable, yet pleasing, that a ton of people are blogging the simultaneous World Social Forum and World Economic Forum.

I have my problems with both events, as both seem stuck in their own forms of ideological posturing, but this year, there does seem to be some sort of change in the air at both (though calling Davos "Porto Alegre without the sun" still seems a stretch).

Check it out yourself:

Loic Le Meur has a WEF/WSF wiki, with a small list of bloggers attending the events (including Worldchanging ally and kickass bridge-blogger Rebecca MacKinnon).

LeMonde has blogging teams at both events, but not being a Francophone, I can't tell if they're worth reading or not. I can tell you what is: Open Democracy's WSF bloggage, "openAlegre." Check out, for instance, this post on Geeks and Samba:

"Windows doesn't dance. Bill Gates is afraid of Brazil. A Government Minister who is "proud to be a hacker". So went this morning's packed congregation in the church of Open Source Software, Creative Commons, and Free Digital Lovin'. Zone A, the modestly titled Autonomous Thought, Reappropriation and Socialisation of Knowledge and Technology, hosted a luminous gathering of information age prophets: Manuel Castells, Gilberto Gil, John-Perry Barlow, Lawrence Lessig and others. Their drive for more open technology has increasingly made common cause with the saner elements of the anti-corporate movement who want reform of copyright law and greater freedom of expression.

"What relevance [is] this to the WSF? Barlow explained: 'Brazil currently spends more on software licences than it does on erradicating hunger.' The country's embracing of open source software was just one of the reasons why this Grateful Dead Lyricist proclaimed 'Gil is my Hero.' [...] 'I am a Minister" [Gil] said, 'I am a musician. But above all I am a Hacker.' And he hoped to see any number of 'French Revolutions in the 21st Century,' in trade, software and the acceptance of diversity. In amongst the fluff all the panelists seemed to agree that Brazil was a technology icon for the developing world. They didn't explain why anyone would want to be a geek in a country with beaches, sun and samba. But lead by their Minister of cool, and all happily licensed under creative commons, it was left to one of the questioners to wonder what good all this would be if one in ten Brazilians can't read? The audience was left to wonder how terrified Bill might be when they all can."

(Their Davos blog, though, is sort of lame, while the official Davos blog is useful but a bit tepid, like most official blogs. An interesting outside perespective is Davosnewbies.)

The big over-reported Porto Alegre story? The protest which greeted Lula. Gee, the fringe Left protesting its own for not being radical enough? The Left eats its own young. Big surprise.

The big wrongly-reported Davos story? Tony Blair's speech.


It was not a great speech, but it was historic -- a call to fight terrorism, end conflict and disorder, promote democracy and human rights, support a viable and peaceful Palestinian state, meet the challenges of Africa and climate change:

"We live in a world where 300 million Africans still don't have access to safe drinking water. Not deprived simply of the relative luxuries of clothing or shelter or electricity, but the most basic requirement of existence: clean water. Three thousand African children under the age of five die every day from malaria. Six thousand people die each day from AIDS. In the Congo alone, over five years, almost three million people have died in its war torn territory.

"We know all of this. So what can be done? And given past history and Africa's continuing suffering, what different can be done? ... [W]e cannot confront the endemic perpetual crisis of African poverty on any basis other than a partnership between African Governments and those of the developed world. The old donor/recipient relationship is patronising and unworkable. But we need to help African leadership grow further, building democratic and institutional capacity that allows African nations to govern effectively, create proper political, legal, fiscal and commercial systems of sound government and root out corruption. There are some positive signs. Democracy in Africa is spreading and is now the norm. African institutions, like the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development are growing stronger. But commitment by the developed world is rightly conditional. It is help on the only basis that works: help not as charity but as a route to independence from it. ...

"In respect of Africa, the problem is universally acknowledged. In respect of climate change it isn't. There are facts that are accepted. The five hottest years on record have occurred in the last seven years; and ten hottest in the last fourteen. It is over eighteen years since the world recorded a "colder-than-normal" month. Snow cover has decreased 10 per cent since the 1960s. ...

"My view is that if we put forward, as a solution to climate change, something which involves drastic cuts in growth or standards of living, it matters not how justified it is, it simply won't be agreed to. But fortunately that need not be the case. Science and technology cannot alone provide the answer. But they certainly provide the means to ensure that we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions without damaging our economy. Indeed over time they provide the prospect of significant business and economic opportunities.

"First to set a direction of travel. Whether because of the risks associated with climate change or related issues of security of energy supply, we need to send a clear signal that whilst we continue to analyse science - and the conference in Exeter next week will help - we are united in moving in the direction of greenhouse gas reductions. I support the Kyoto Protocol. Others will not and that position is understood. But business and the global economy need to know this isn't an issue that is going away. My clear view, for what it is worth, is that the debate will be how and on what time scale it is confronted; not whether. I intend to make progress on this with the EU Presidency later this year as well as through the G8.

"Secondly, through the G8 process I want to develop a package of practical measures, largely focused on technology, to cut emissions. And here I don't just mean research into new technologies, important though that is. I also think we need to work much harder to find ways to implement the vast range of low-carbon technologies that have already been developed. Energy efficiency. Renewable energy sources. Cleaner fossil fuels. Avoiding waste. All of this can be done, and often at a much lower cost than we realise.

"Thirdly, the G8 need to work in partnership with the rapidly developing economies like China, India, Brazil and South Africa to find a way for them to grow and develop as low carbon economies. I was struck by the fact that by 2030, coal plants in developing countries could produce more carbon emissions than the entire power sector in the OECD does now. Developed and emerging economies must work together over the coming months and years to reach a new consensus on how we deal with the challenge of climate change."

It was reported, however, as something of a charity appeal, which could not be farther from Blair's very valid point: we are all in this together, and poverty, disease, environmental destruction and political violence threaten us everywhere when they happen anywhere.

Blair's speech was about national self-interest in the 21st Century (whatever the nation you call home), not "doing good." Blair's speech, however timidly-phrased, was worldchanging.

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